Review: The Half-Life of Planets by Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin

Emily Franklin's website here, Brendan Halpin's website here // $11.55 from {amazon}
Publisher: Hyperion Book CH (June 15, 2010)
Hardcover: 256 pages
Source: ALA
Summary: from {goodreads}
Liana is an aspiring planetary scientist... and also a kissing addict. This summer, though, she plans to spend every kissworthy hour in the lab, studying stars. Hank has never been kissed. He’s smart and funny and very socially awkward, because he’s got Asperger’s syndrome. Hank’s plan for the summer is to work at a music store and save enough to buy the Fender Jazzmaster he craves. What neither Liana nor Hank plans for is their fateful meeting... in the women’s bathroom at the hospital. But their star-crossed encounter could be the very best kind. Two veteran YA authors tell, in alternating chapters, the story of two kids who discover that the best parts of people can’t be summed up easily.

Rating: View my rating system.

My Thoughts: The Half-Life of Planets is a perfect summer read with a bit of depth and a lot of fun, adorable fluff. The unique perspectives and dual narration are strongly reminiscent of David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, though the sunny beach setting alleviates the tension and sense of urgency seen in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist; instead, soothing coffee shops and hand-holding teenage couples replace the dark streets and beach-side walking takes the place of frantic cabs. And ultimately, regardless of much you do or do not enjoy The Half-Life of Planets, it's tale of innocent and awkward first love is certain to leave you with a wistful smile on your face.

There's Hank, the boy with Asperger's syndrome. There's Liana, the girl with a kissing fetish. Then there's them together. Hank and Liana came off as authentic teenagers with their understandable adolescent insecurities and family troubles - Hank with his dead father and normal brother and Liana with her distanced mother and preoccupied father. With their shaky past, Hank and Liana are both looking for normalcy and support and that's what they're tentatively trying to find in each other. However, it's not a smooth road and Hank and Liana's engaging voices and thoughts immediately drew me into their dilemmas. The writing is spot-on with my fellow teenagers' speech and mentality and proved to be my favorite aspect of The Half-Life of Planets; it kept me hooked on the book when the plot lulled. The dual narration also flows smoothly and efficiently. We get a glimpse of why Liana is skeptical of love and why Hank is unsure of it, and I loved seeing both of their perspectives on the same event with the slight narration overlaps at each transition.

Despite The Half-Life of Planets's light premise, it works in some depth with Hank's Asperger's syndrome and the resulting lessons. During Hank's narration, there's an evident lack of body language analysis and he speaks, outwardly and inwardly, in a blunt, archaic, over-formal, and hard-to-describe way. It's surprisingly endearing and as the book progressed, his tendencies become less-and-less noticeable; it just becomes Hank. I definitely felt more strongly for Hank than Liana, mostly because Hank is awkward but adorably quirky while Liana is kind of like every other girl I know - minus a kissing obsession. But maybe that's the appeal. However, while Hank and Liana were very strong characters, I would have liked to see more of their families. Their family members are there enough to cause drama and impart the intended message, but they felt a little two-dimensional; as in, Liana's dad is always worried about his health condition. And he flies around the country to give lectures. Period, done.

Still, The Half-Life of Planets had me completely engrossed for the majority of the book. There's nothing especially stand-out about it and the plot moves incredibly slow, but I still couldn't put it down. I suspect the main cause was the authentic YA voice, though the fact that it's just the right time for an idyllic, carefree summer romance can't hurt. The end wraps up very fast compared to the rest of the story but it's sweet, it's promising, and it's satisfying. Really, this is the perfect type of book for a "holding hands and walking along the beach and sunset" cover - with a guitar, of course (Hank's focus on music). Overall, The Half-Life of Planets is such a feel-good, enjoyable read with sprinkling of solid lessons about self-acceptance and self-identity.

Romance: Holding hands, light kissing. There's a bit of kissing, but that's about it. I'd say it's safe for the book recommend age range of 12 and up, though be mature to handle some mentions of sex, "slut," and masturbation. Mentions, not actual blow-by-blow descriptions of the event.
Cover: 2.0 -- The disc idea is cute and matches the large role music plays in the story, and I can envision Hank like that. But that is not what I imagine Liana to be AT ALL. Liana is depicted with a medium-big chest (model: small to none), "womanly hips" (model: super skinny), and dark brown hair with short choppy pieces at the front (model: light brown/dirty blond hair with bangs - I don't think the bangs are exactly what they were going for...).** The 33 1/3 I just find mysterious.
Writing: 4.5
Characters: 4.0
Plot: 3.5

Bottom Line: The Half-Life of Planets is definitely something I'd recommend if you're looking for a light, smile-inducing summer read that isn't complete fluff. Plot-wise, it is slow - so if you get frustrated with slow plots, you may want to skip this one - but the solid teenage writing kept me interested and if you're into music, Hank spews endless interesting facts about KISS, the Kinks, etc. I'm not a big chick-lit fan, and I loved The Half-Life of Planets much more than I expected to. Liked it to the extent that I almost want to say "why haven't I been hearing more reviews of this one?!"